As food safety testing continues to evolve, it has become increasingly important to ensure that your methods and technicians are providing you with reliable results. Participating in a proficiency program is a great way to build confidence in your methods and technicians. Cherney Microbiological Services, Ltd.’s Proficiency Manager, Ashley Erdman explains.

1 Why participate in a proficiency testing (PT) program?

Aside from meeting regulatory compliances, participation in PT is a GLP that ensures competency of your staff. PT programs allow comparison not only internally over time, but also immediately against technicians from other laboratories. These factors can help strengthen relationships with customers by showing commitment to quality and improvement.

2 What is important when selecting a program?

The most important factor when selecting a program is ensuring it is fit for your purpose. Choose a program that allows the use of your internal methods and processes as they are, or as close to routine as possible. Other important factors include sample matrix, ease of processing, result presentation, program size, and provider accreditation and responsiveness.

3 I cannot find a program with a matrix that is an exact match to my own, but others do offer similar testing. Can I still use these programs?

If possible, the program should have a matrix as close to that typically being tested at your facility. If the PT matrix, although different, allows for similar testing as in the lab, the matrix should be suitable. Ensure results tested differently are assessed equally, confirming different methods can produce similar results. The two matrixes can be different, as long as the end result is the same. Check with your provider to see if they feel the matrix is a good fit.

4 I received an unsatisfactory result and completed an investigation and determined root cause. What else I can do?

A recheck, sample sent by the provider for the customer to retest to determine if an improvement in results can be made, may be a good option. Contact your provider to see if rechecks are available. This is a way to provide a corrective action response to customers and show documented competency and training of technicians.

5 What are the benefits of participating in an environmental PT program?

Product testing accounts for only a fraction of the finished goods that will ultimately be released to consumers. Testing the facility environment, provides a more encompassing picture. Participation in an environment PT program shows competence in one’s EM program and ultimately, safety of the product within your facility. These programs bridge the gap from knowing only your product testing process is proficient, to knowing your environmental testing process is proficient as well.